Chapter 2 – The Players on the Board
"Gooooooood Morning, Noo Yawk!"
Janet Van Dyne fumbled for the alarm clock, slapping her hand down and struggling to find the OFF button. She sat up in bed, feeling around for her clothes, refusing to give into peer pressure by opening her eyes and admitting she was awake. She found a pair of old jeans, felt around for the button, and slipped into them. Fumbling for her phone, she cursed as her hand nudged it off the nightstand and behind the bed. She bent over to dig it out, not hearing the footsteps behind her.
"Would you look at that view?"
Jan straightened up, bumping her head on the night stand and turning around.
Hank Pym looked out the window, then at his wife, confused.
"What? It's nice out. A bit gray, but you know how much I like rain."
Jan cleared her throat, pocketing her dusty phone. Hank handed her a cup of coffee, beige, just how she liked it. "So what's on the calendar for today, hon? Maybe some lunch, some shopping?"
Hank held his spritely wife close, kissing her hair. "No can do, babe. We've got SHIELD coming in this morning."
Jan looked at Hank in shock. "What's happening? It's not bad, is it?"
"We'll find out, I suppose. Don't worry about it, whatever it is, we can handle it. You just go have some fun, and when you get back, we'll have some time for ourselves."
Jan crinkled her nose, but Hank was back out the door before she could protest. Deflated, she limply swallowed her coffee, and set the mug on the counter.
The woman walked through the sliding glass doors into the lobby. The whole room was brightly lit, white marble tile and columns, with monitor screens along the walls advertising the various business concerns the tower held. She walked up to the front desk, her heels clicking, and rested her hand on the counter, looking over at the mechanical receptionist.
"Excuse me, I think I'm expected?"
The flat screen turned, the face of a young woman projected onto it.
"Welcome to the Baxter Building. Please identify yourself for security purposes."
She let out a long sigh, wiping her short black bangs from her field of view.
"For God's sake, Andrea, it's...oh forget it. Monica Rappaccini, SHIELD. We have a meeting today." She muttered under her breath her disdain for the synthetic receptionist.
"Ah. Yes. Director Rappaccini. Apologies, my short term memory backup was recently the target of a cyberterrorist attack. Luckily Doctors Pym and Von Doom were able to restore me to full functionality, with only a loss of 3% standing memory files."
"That is just so fascinating," Monica derided, somewhat unhappy that her sarcasm was lost on the machine. "Are they here? I have a lot to do today and I'd like to get under way already."
Andrea's tone was measured and calculated, "Doctors and Von Doom are en route to the war room; Captain Rogers is there already."
"And the other one? Where is he?"
"Iron Man is on mission to Genosha. He will be returning later today, if projections are accurate."
The Director sighed in relief. She hated dealing with Iron Man, finding him smug and arrogant. She honestly wondered how any of the others could work with him, given his personality. The man was so abrasive, so self-assured and sneering...she supposed he would be flattered she thought of him at all, would say she was drawn to him, but the truth was, he scared her. Her, the Director of SHIELD, and some industrialist in a suit of armour terrified her. And not in a UST, animalistic way; in a very visceral, oh-shit-this-asshole-has-raybeams kind of way. At least he wasn't here, she thought. At least that was still in her favour.
The elevator opened up, and Monica exited passing by several technicians. She banked left and head down the hall to the war room. A janitor in his dunny gray work clothes was tending to a burned out electrical panel on the wall as she passed by, muttering his apologies for taking up so much of her path, his words tinged with an Eastern European accent. Monica waved him off, made sure not to step on his tools or his hands, and continued.
The war room was pale-lit bluish gray. Captain Rogers noticed the Director first, and stood, offering his hand to her. "Director Rappaccini, glad you made it. We hope this emergency of yours isn't too dire."
In the corner skulked a hooded figure, their face obscured by a dark green cowl. The figures breathing was low and raspy, Darth Vader-like and haunting. Seated across from the good captain was Hank Pym, moon-face beaming, a shock of auburn hair crowning what must have been a chubby boy in his youth.
"I'm afraid it is, Steve. I...had hoped Iron Man would be here, " utter bullshit, "but this can't wait. If you'll all have a seat."
Steve returned to his seat. The hooded figure remained standing; The Director hadn't thought he'd sit, he never did take orders. Almost as arrogant as Iron Man. The Director set up a small box like device on the table, pressed a button, and a monitor on the wall behind her sparked to life. The screen filled with fire and smoke, sounds of gunfire and screaming, showing what looked like a ruined city block under siege. People ran for their lives as the camera shook violently.
"This came to us four hours ago from the West African Office. This is Mroko-Lempur, a smallish city, population one-point-two million, in the heart of Niganda. At oh-three-hundred this morning local time, Prime Minister Raymond M'Butu was assassinated, and his palace apartment reduced to rubble. Along with the city surrounding it."
The three men watched as buildings shook apart, collapsing to the ground, already littered with bodies.
"My god," Pym intoned. "What did this?"
The camera shook again, this time more subtly, as it spun around to show a tall black man, head shaved clean, as he calmly walked down the street, the world moving around him.
"Not what, Doctor Pym. Who. This man. Moses Magnum. I'll debrief you on him, after the man himself says his piece."
Steve opened his mouth to question this, but a deep baritone interrupted him.
"You're seeing this? You are capturing this? Excellent, let the world see. Hello, Mr. President. Greetings from Niganda. Greetings from Africa. And greetings from Magnum. I want you to see, Mr. President, what happens when you push people down. You have imprisoned many others like me, people with powers. You call them mutants, or exotics, or whatever euphemism you have to dehumanize them. You arrest them without cause, imprison them without trial, and execute them without mercy, and you have the gall to call yourself a leader amongst men. Well I am here now, Mr. President, and I will show the world that the only place you lead men is to the grave. My name is Moses Magnum. I am coming for you. And what I have done to this pissant banana republic will seem like a day at the beach compared to what I will do to America. Have a nice day, Mr. President. It will be your last."
The camera went black after that.
"Good god, an entire city? Why haven't we heard about this yet?"
"Because," came the rasping, metallic answer from beneath the green hood, "if the world learned that an exotic could destroy a city by walking through it, order would be impossible to maintain."
The Director nodded. "Precisely. The President has ordered that all information regarding the Nigandan massacre be suppressed until Magnum is deep in the cold, cold ground. SHIELD is providing relief covertly through several charitable fronts, but we still can't enter some parts of the country. It seems Magnum didn't come alone, and we have no intel on his compatriots. Magnum himself, however, we have a glut of intel on" She clicked a button on her watch, and the screen changed to a more focused close up of the man himself, clearly younger, going by the long dreadlocks tied behind his head.
"Moses Abraham Mwanajuma, Ethiopian arms dealer, warlord, general all-purpose fuckstain. He was on SHIELD's radar before, but when we took over the government's anti-exotic mandates, he fell down our priority list like a shot from a cannon. Where he got powers from is unknown. Hell, we don't even know if he has powers; all we have determined is that he can walk through an earthquake untouched. Perhaps one of his lackeys has the power, or it's tech-driven, or some other option, we just don't know."
Steve Rogers was silent for a long second, then stood up. "Alright then. We'll go in, get ground intel, and take this sick bastard out, along with anyone else he might have with him."
Hank rubbed his neck nervously. "I don't know, Steve, this smacks a hell of a lot like the New Mexico thing. We go in, minimal info, and we get tossed around by a seven foot tall leather daddy with a flaming skull. Shouldn't we wait until we know more?"
Again the hooded figure spoke up. "And while we wait, how many more will this lunatic kill, Pym? It's not an ideal situation, but if this Magnum can level a city with his mere presence, then time is of the essence. What word from Wakanda, Director?"
"Wakanda knows about the attack – they would, keeping anything a secret from their Queen is just about impossible – but they've refused any help from SHIELD. We believe the Wakandans are hoping their vibranium stockpile can neutralize Magnum's ability, but true to form, they refuse to share it with anyone else. All of this makes your job even more difficult. The two countries have a peace accord in place that explicitly forbids SHIELD from entering either nation. If Magnum hadn't wanted us to see this video, we'd have never known about it in the first place. What this means, is that you'll be going in naked, no SHIELD support at all. We can't even fly a satellite over either country."
The hooded figure sighed, the sound similar to a radiator hissing. "No matter, Director, we have our ways."
Steve stood up, his jaw set. "We've wasted enough time, then. Director, you can trust us to deal with this. The Fantastic Four will handle Moses Magnum."
Steve Rogers, now fully dressed in his blue scale mail armour as Captain America, prepped the Quinjet for take off. Pym sat in the copilot's seat, with the third man in the passenger row.
"All lights green, Steve. ETA to Niganda at top speed is ninety minutes."
"Clearing circle, V-jets firing You hear that, Victor? Ninety minutes for you to use that brain of yours to figure out how to stop a walking seismic event. Can you do it?"
The hooded man – Victor – responded with his usual metallic rasp. " Of course, Captain. The only thing I can't do is think of what I'll do to fill up the other eighty-four minutes."
The ground crew cleared away from the sleek, black jet plane, as it lifted from the roof tarmac, a good four storeys up, then flared its thrust engines, taking off at a fantastical speed.
Deep in the recesses of the Baxter Building, the janitor watched for guards as he crept along the dimly lit corridors towards the server farm. He half-sprinted towards the server room, gritting his teeth and trying to keep up the electromagnetic refraction field that rendered him invisible to the camera.
Looking at the magnetic card reader barring his path, he only chuckled. Magnets. Dearest god, he thought, why not just put up a banner saying "Welcome, Max?" It barely took a second for Max to disable the security system, the alarms monitoring the security system, and the four layers of redundant defensive measures after that, and open the door. He slid inside, sealing it behind him again with a magnetic field, and went to work. Pulling a small hacking device from under his hat, he knelt next to
the massive rows of supercomputers, and began looking, searching, for what he needed. In a flicker of ones and zeroes, the device in his hand filled with names and faces, information and profiles.
Where were they? Who were they? And could they be trusted? He had to know.
And somewhere, a small device in the corner sent a small message upstairs.
Iron Man wasn't having any of it. As he tore into New York airspace, he muttered to himself angrily, using the terms, "coconut chucking beach monkey" more than once, and worse invectives besides.
The mission to Genosha – an attempt to convince the Genoshan Magistrates to support a SHIELD base to catch exotics fleeing American justice – had been an abysmal failure. Something about, "the Genoshan way is one of acceptance and peace; let those disenfranchised by America and her policies find shelter on our shores," usual hippy bullshit. Perhaps a well aimed ARC-particle thrower aimed at their dinky little tropical cat box would let them know who was in charge.
A small mechanical pop broke his inner tirade, the holographic screen inside his helmet alerting him to an alarm. He rolled his eye over the interface, accessing his private line. His sensors had picked up a body in the server farm. HIS server farm. He rolled his eye to the intercom icon, and opened a channel.
"Baxter Building, this is Iron Man, coming in."
Andrea's synthetic chirpiness responded, "Welcome back, Mr. Sta-"
"Why is somebody in the server room, you idiotic tinker toy?"
The artificial receptionist sputtered as it processed this new abuse. "Systems show nobody has accessed the server farm in three days, Mr.. St-"
"You incompetent collusion of ones and zeroes, you've wasted enough of my time. I'll deal with this myself."
Iron Man closed the com channel, and dove for street level like a missile.
Max checked the progress on his scan. Only six percent. This database must be massive, he thought.
His next thought was, "what happened to the sound?", mixed with "why am I on the floor?" and "where did the ceiling go?" The explosion had taken him by surprise, throwing him into the wall and cracking two ribs, making each breath a burning stab in the side. Wheezing in agony, trying to keep his sides together, Max rolled over and saw, through the spears of light and noise raining down on him, a large gunmetal gray figure, thick and bulky, slowly descending from above, great circle in it's middle glowing hot white. The figure held out it's left palm, another glowing circle humming in the centre of his hand, and a voice, distorted as if over a radio, boomed out.
"Welcome to the Baxter Building, asshole. Step away from my computers, and I'll only murder you a little."
Max moved to sit up, his side on fire, and with a sharp wince, fell back to the floor. The heavy footsteps of the armoured man rang throughout Max' skull. He tried to rise again, only to feel a hot blast and blinding light hurl him to the wall.
"No no," sneered Iron Man, his hand smoking, "don't get up. Let's get to know each other better."
Standing over the winded and burnt intruder, Iron Man planted a single, massive boot on Max' chest, threatening to crush him underfoot. "Me? I like moonlit walks along the beach, fat-free frogurt, and killing impossible idiots like you. And you? Breaking into secured private property for the purposes of industrial espionage I know, but what makes you, you?"
Max struggled to breath, struggled to do much of anything given the massive weight on his chest. He pulled at his hand, pinned behind his back to the floor, trying to free it before it was too late. Iron Man's feet began to glow, signalling that he was about to fire his rocket boots. Max had run out of time.
"You know, I should probably interrogate you, find out who hired you. But really, the day I'm having, I just to want to kill some dumb bastard, and you're our lucky contestant."
The hum and heat of the rocket intensified, and Max could smell his skin burn. In a burst of fear and panic, he shouted, throwing Iron Man off of him and clear through the remaining walls, landing him a solid twenty feet away. With a thought, Max' drive flew to his hand from under the rubble, dented and scratched, but whole. Iron Man rose, lifting his head to Max, practically burning red hot with anger and confusion. Max concentrated through the pain, forcing himself to levitate up towards the hole Iron Man had provided, blood speckling his lips.
"What the hell?" was all Iron Man could say.
Max said nothing – he figured anything he said know would only give his plan away and he was too scared and hurt to think straight at the moment anyway – so with a gesture he flung Iron Man further back, embedding him in a nearby elevator, and drifted out of the hole, blowing out a wall on the floor above and flying as fast as he could into the daylight, scattering pedestrians in a panic. Iron Man scrambled to pull himself out of the elevator shaft clumsily, raving in rage and frustration,
"You son of a bitch! I will find you, and I'll blow your goddamned head off!"
Max came to a rooftop near the river. When he was sure he hadn't been followed, he slumped down onto the hot asphalt, feeling for his broken ribs. Wincing at the stabbing pain in his side. He carefully opened a drop bag he had placed there earlier. He pulled out a burn phone, and dialed the one number on it. "Moira," his voice limp and breathless, "I need help."
Victor scanned the city blocks ahead, the glow of the fires lighting the sky orange.
"Anything?" Captain America called up, standing amidst a half-dozen unconscious looters they had happened upon.
Victor stood away from the roof's edge, and dropped onto the streets below, creating a minor shock wave with his impact.
"Magnum has set himself up in the ruins of the President's palace. Steven, it's a horror show. Like something out of 'Apocalypse Now.' Bodies on display, men, women...children."
The Captain set his jaw, gripping the leather straps of his shield tighter, and set forward.
"We're ending this. Hank, ant-sized, I want an ambush waiting in case the worse happens. Victor, you're point. I'll try to find a sniper's position behind him."
The Captain darted down a ruined alleyway, as Hank Pym vanished from sight, leaving only the sound of air rushing to fill a void behind. Victor, alone, walked determinedly towards the rubble of the palace, ignoring the gruesome tableau of hanging corpses and impaled heads lining the street.
Moses Magnum stood in the middle of what was once the President's kitchen, shattered black marble clattering at his feet, amidst the broken pieces of what were once the President's bodyguards and family. He held in his hand a dark green bottle of wine, a Chateau LaFite 1787, the cork crunched between his teeth. He spat the cork onto the President's wife, and swung his head back, taking a deep swallow, before spitting it back out, retching in disgust.
"What is this shit!? Can't you rich assholes ever get the good stuff?"
A grim, reverberating voice echoed behind Magnum, surprising him.
"Barbarian. Bordeaux is only good for fifty years. That "wine" turned to vinegar while your ancestors were living in dung huts fighting the Egyptians for their Empire."
Magnum spun around, dropping the bottle to the broken ground. He sees Victor, standing like the grim reaper, his armour looking like a stern iron gargoyle hidden by a tattered green hood.
Moses laughed, "So you got my invitation. Good. I hadn't expected to see you so soon, to be honest. Doctor Doom. Tell me, do you like what I've done with the place? I thought it could use a small makeover. A new backsplash, some throw pillows, the absolute extermination of all mundane life. I think it's divine...perhaps I'll share my design vision with Latveria, hmm?"
Doom moved towards Magnum menacingly, only for the ground before him to explode outwards, stopping him cold in his tracks. Magnum sneered at Victor, a smug look that only served to make Victor want to hit Magnum until he was a weeping stain on the ground.
"Let's not be hasty, Doctor. Why not wait for the others to arrive, hmm? Let me guess...Doctor Pym will be coming in ant-sized, so I don't notice him. The good Captain will be somewhere I won't see him...perhaps high and behind me? A good place to take me out with that shield of his. Such a brave man, fighting from cover and at a range. I'm sure the Nazis were quite terrified of him, such courage."
Victor only stared at Magnum, knowing that his compatriots would be in position shortly. Magnum wasn't the patient sort, however, and spoke again, raising his voice to echo through the ruins.
"But wouldn't Hitler be proud of you now, Captain? Siding with the same racist filth that he spawned! I wonder, when they're shovelling exotic children into furnaces, will you salute the flag still? Will you even think to shed a tear, or are they all just Untermenchen to you, either way?"
The response was the twanging whistle of Captain America's shield as it cut through the air, arcing towards Magnum's skull, only to bounce harmlessly off of...well, nothing. Magnum turned to the direction from which the shield flew, smirking at the man in blue trying to hide in the rafters.
"Don't be afraid, Captain. Come down here, and we can settle this like men."
Steve rolled backwards off the beam supporting him, landing perfectly on his feet.
"Like men? Men don't butcher entire nations for no good reason, Magnum."
The earth shook, as Magnum's voice hit a crescendo pitch in anger, "No good reason? You murder exotics, and you call my act of resistance, 'NO GOOD REASON'? I have EVERY reason to butcher these monsters! Niganda is one of the few countries on Earth that administers the Trask test to unborn children! Any fetus found with the potential for exotic powers is aborted, and both parents sterilized! What, pray tell, is the 'reasonable' response to that, Captain? Lay back and think of fucking England?"
The only response was the sound of unearthly creaking, as about twenty feet above Magnum, a man in an orange and blue bodysuit exploded out of nothingness, eclipsing the sky and dropping on the murderer, sending his two compatriots flying back and decimating what was left of the palace. As the dust settled, Hank Pym stepped over the bombed out wall of the palace, his body creaking and moaning as it shrunk down to human-size.
"My god he liked to talk. Everyone alright? I didn't hurt you guys, did I?"
Victor walked through the dust, shaking his hood and venting his armour. " We are fine, Pym, although further notice in the future would be greatly appreciated."
Captain America kicked up his shield, catching the leather straps deftly. Something troubled him.
"Victor, what was that with my shield? It looked like it bounced away from him."
Victor paused for a second. "Yes...it did."
Before another word could be uttered, Victor vanished, a stream of dust marking his disappearance, leaving Hank and the Captain staring in bafflement. Before they could say another word in bewilderment, Hank fell to his knees, screaming in pain and clutching his head. And behind him, Moses Magnum rose from the wreckage.
Two miles away, Victor slammed into a tree, crushing it's dried, ancient trunk with his armoured bulk and scattering into the dirt, pock-marking it with impact. Rising from the mini-crater he had found him in, Victor could only watch as a white streak U-turned back towards the city ruins, leaving him to hobble after it.
Captain America struggled to stay conscious, as the world around him hummed deafeningly, his teeth rattling in his skull. He hid behind his shield as Magnum closed in, the air around his outstretched hand vibrating, setting the whole world to a blurry, throbbing beat. Hank was staggering to his feet, retching and stumbling, when Magnum hit him with another seismic blast to the head, disrupting his inner ear again and causing him to crash to the ground.
"Arrogant fucking Americans. You thought you'd swoop in and save the day? Come riding in on your white horses, like John Wayne, shoot up the bad guys and get the girl? I do so hate to disappoint you, Steven, but you are not John Wayne, and this is not the Rio Grande."
Magnum leaned into the Captain's face, sneering smugly, Magnum's vibrating hand only inches from his face, setting his teeth to a painful rattle. Steve kept his eyes open, focused on Magnum's, flashing with righteous anger; if this was how he was going to die, he was going to look his death in the eye, he thought.
Magnum stood up, and the world stopped shaking. Steve only stared at him in defiance, daring him to attack.
Magnum sneered, "Not yet, Captain. When it happens, I want there to be an audience. I want you all at top strength. All of you. Even Iron Man. I was disappointed he wasn't here. His company had a hand in all this, you know; enabling the Nigandans and their genocide. So breathe easy, go home and get some rest. Because there will come a day, unlike any other, when Earth's exotic men and women will find themselves united against a common threat. On that day, we will all be avengers."
Steve leaped forward, swinging his shield at Magnum's face, but in a blitz of white and silver, he was gone, leaving only a trail of spinning dust in his wake.
Steve forced himself to his feet, and walked over to the screaming Doctor Pym. Kneeling at the agonized scientist, the Captain could only watch as Pym clutched at his ears. Heavy metallic footsteps alerted the Captain, and he turned to see Victor, limping. "What happened to you?"
Victor snorted indignantly, "Magnum wasn't alone. Your shield bouncing away from him, that...blur that blindsided me...he has an organization behind him. What happened to Pym?"
"Magnum hit his head with...whatever it is he does."
Victor knelt by Pym, tapping a compartment on his thigh, which opened to reveal a series of metal-tipped miniature syringes. "Has he vomited yet?"
"No, I don't think so. What is this, Victor?"
"If Magnum can generate a seismic wave powerful enough to move tectonic plates, Steven, think about what it could do to a human's inner ear."
Victor picked a syringe, and tapped it, shaking up an air-bubble that he promptly squirted out.
"No worry, I can't imagine it's fatal. Very unpleasant. Magnum stirred up the fluid in his inner ear like a typhoon. Some sedative will calm Pym down, and an inertial dampener will calm the fluid before it bursts his tympanum. He'll have to be taken off roster for a few weeks while we recovers, and only after I've given him leave to use his powers. A giant with vertigo is a liability to us all, Steven."
Victor applied the syringe, and after a few seconds, Hank Pym stopped screaming, and settled into a fitful sleep.
Aboard a salvaged Sikorsky CH-54 heavy-cargo helicopter, Moses Magnum smiled as Niganda disappeared far beneath him. In the copilots seat was a hooded youth, vibrating ever so slightly with a soft white diffused aura. Piloting the craft was a large, muscular bald man with a thick neck and jaw, and hovering about the cargo area was what looked to be a toddler in a flying chair, only this toddler had an overgrown and misshapen head and green skin.
"I hope you got what you came for, Moses," the green thing said in a high-pitched, creaking voice. "You tipped our hand by revealing our existence too early."
"Nonsense, Samuel. At best, they know I have others. But who those others are, and what they can do...but still, we should do some shopping. We'll need some more secret weapons if we're to do this properly. Any luck on that front, by the way?"
The green thing smiled, it's teeth crooked and yellow, a fading grey moustache stretching around it's sick
grin. "Funny you should ask that. There's something you need to see." Samuel led Moses to
a small monitor screen, plugged into the choppers electrical systems.
"This all happened a few hours ago, just before the Fan-spastic Trio started tripping over their long johns."
The screen showed the front of the Baxter Building at street level, cars and pedestrians passing by quickly. Suddenly, a gunmetal gray blur slams into the street, tunnelling deep underneath it."
"Iron Man. I wondered why he hadn't shown up. But what is he doing?"
Samuel chuckled hoarsely, "I wondered that myself. Then, a hundred-eleven seconds later, this."
A gray blur shoots out of the hole left in the street, streaking past the camera. Samuel froze the video, and turned to Moses. "Iron Man was responding to an alarm in the Baxter Building. Seems they had an intruder in the lower sections. An exotic. And Moses? I ran a satellite imaging scan over the street during the three minutes after this was taken? The area experienced a noted spike in electromagnetic radiation. Who ever this person is, they're magnetic."
Moses Magnum smiled wide, his mind blazing with possibilities. "Well then, we should find this magnetic person, and make friends, don't you think?"
"You stupid, stupid man. I didn't agree to help you commit suicide, Max!"
The angry Scotswoman's face turned beet red as she bandaged Max' ribs in the cramped motel room.
"Just what the bloody hell do you think you were doing, going into the Baxter Building of all places? What if they had caught you? Ah hell, they did catch you! What was going on in that fool head of yours?"
Max winced as she tightened the wrapping, certain that she was doing it on purpose out of her annoyance with him. "I had to, Moira. With Charles' computer files gone, the Baxter Building is the only place on Earth with a comprehensive list of suspected exotics."
Moira sneered, throwing aside a bloody cloth and standing up from the bed. "Charles. That bloody fool and his damned crusade. It got him killed. Him and his children." Moira peeked open the faded yellow curtains a bit, looking up at the sky paranoidly. She turned back to Max, who had reclined on the bed, taking up a nearby bottle of scotch and set on relieving it of it's contents. "You don't have to do it, you know. He had no right to ask you, and you don't owe him a damned thing." Max took a slug from the bottle, wiping his mouth. "He asked me once before. When we first fled Europe, the twins and myself. Hungary had just gone anti-mutant, there were purges in the street. We barely got out...I lost Magda, Anya, and Lorna. He found me in Argentina, asked me to come back with him to New York, to help set up his school." Another slug, a longer one, and a loud swallow broke his silence.
"I said no. I had two eight year old children to see to, I couldn't go running off to...to build an army. God, I don't even know what he was doing. Teaching children to fight? Was he mad?"
Moira let the curtain slide from her fingers. "No...not mad. Desperate. He thought SHIELD would hesitate to fire on children, even exotics. He was counting on them being bloody human beings, instead of anonymous meat-robots."
Max pulled another slug from the bottle, coughing as it burned down his throat. Once the sputtering and hacking had stopped, he laid his head on the pillow, closing his eyes.
"Well that won't be my mistake. First rule: no children. If this is going to work, it needs to be done right."
Moira pulled the bottle from Max' hands, and slugged back a shot herself, wrinkling her nose at the weakness. "No...no, that won't work. You get a bunch of grown men in uniforms, saying how they'll change the world, and the only word on people's minds is 'terrorist'. Maybe Charles had the right idea. Children are a symbol of hope. We're supposed to want them to change the world. I mean, you don't want to look like a fascist, do you?"
Max scoffed. "Right, because a fascist would never parade around children in uniform to sell their politics."
"I'm only saying, the message you're trying to sell will be hard enough. Having some of the younger generation up front could soften the image, make what you're about more palatable."
Max looked at her in surprise, the scotch starting to blur his eyes. "You've got to be joking."
She slammed the bottle down, sloshing the contents onto the table. "Hell no I'm not joking! You do this right, set up a school to teach them how to use their powers, how to survive without being monsters. At the same time, you take the adults out there, the ones on the run, and you give them a place to stay, a place to belong. They teach the kids, and act as the fighters when the time comes. Kids stay out of harms way, everyone wins."
"You really think there's a 'win' at the end of this, Moira?"
Moira sat up, straightening her blouse. "I don't know, Max. All I know is, Charles believed in you enough to ask. And if something isn't done, then that maniac in the White House will have slaughtered a generation for nothing."
Max leaned over the bed, pulling out the drive and connecting it to Moira's laptop on the floor.
He loaded the information from the drive, sucking through his teeth. "Well...I wasn't able to get everything. I only got about six percent, but it's still a fair bit."
Moira got up heading to the bathroom, undoing her blouse. "Who's first, then?"
Max licked his lips, watching the names scroll by. "This one. Same name as my son...Moira, where's Forest Hills?"
Steve Rogers pinched the bridge of his nose, as the technicians strapped Iron Man's armoured frame into the winch.
"Go over this with me again, will you? You...picked up an alarm, and rather than let security handle it, you demolish the street, our front lobby, and two sub levels, wreck the server room trying to save it, and then get thrown about by one man, who still escapes with...what, exactly?"
Iron Man was thrashing about, trying to push the technicians aside indignantly. "Information. Dammit, get off of me, you glorified interns! I'll get myself out!"
The nearest tech protested, "Sir, you can't lift yourself in the position you're in. The armour's too heavy and cumbersome. Now if you'd just let us-"
"Finish that fucking thought-"
"Language." Steve admonished.
"-And I'll have your replacement clean up your remains with a vacuum cleaner."
\The technician stood back, rolled his eyes, and dismissed his team, muttering under his breath.
"Look, Steve, who ever this asshole was, he was not just some random prick off the street. He knew what he wanted, where to get it, and had the power to back it up. I think we're dealing with a new player here."
Before the Captain could offer his opinion, the elevator opened, Victor stepping out.
"Hank is resting in the infirmary. Janet...is taking it well, all things considered." Victor turned his head to see Iron Man, still on his back in the crushed elevator shaft.
"Dear god, where are my technicians? They were supposed to pull you out of there."
"Those incompetents? I wouldn't trust them to program my VCR! I don't need your interns' help, Victor. I figured out this suit of armour, I can stand up under my own power."
Victor only stared at Iron Man's manic flailing, then turned to Captain America.
"Steve, I've been thinking. Iron Man's attacker picked the moment we were all away to strike. It was only dumb luck," he looked at Iron Man, still turtled on his back, to which an indignant Iron Man retorted, "Go fuck yourself, Victor."
Victor cleared his throat, "It as only dumb luck Iron Man returned at all. I think this mystery man may have been working for Moses Magnum."
Steve nodded. "Makes sense. We're off getting humiliated by Magnum, while his man breaks in and makes off with out intel. Any idea what he was after?"
"Well, I've gone over our database, and although much of it was damaged by," motioning towards the awkward metal figure splayed on the floor, who returned with "Either fucking help me or die in a fire!"
Victor walked over to the metal-clad man-child, digging his armoured fingers into Iron Man's chest plate like it were tinfoil, and pulling him up one-handed. Iron Man, ever the picture of decorum, stormed off, grumbling about how he had to repair his armour and retrofit it to kick some ass. Victor continued. "Our intruder was after our intel lists. Known and suspected exotics, their identities, locations, abilities. If I'm correct, and he's working for Magnum, he may have just handed over a recruitment list that I, frankly, don't even want to think about."
The Captain walked with Victor to the elevator; "Hmm...tell me you can find this maniac before he can get that intel to Magnum."
"Captain, I am Doom. You needn't even ask."
To Be Continued...
Next Time – Max begins to rebuild the X-Men, starting with someone unexpected. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four is taken to task for both their failure in stopping Moses Magnum, and in letting their data be stolen. And Magnum begins growing his army, recruiting exotics into his group, all to prepare for his master stroke against the US government.